Imagine this, an Aussie summer barbecue, days before Christmas at my wife’s colleague’s place. Out of the dozen or so people that were there, there was one person that I thought I perhaps knew. To be honest, despite being a fairly private person, I’m relatively happy and comfortable in most social gatherings. I guess you become accustomed to it, especially given the fact that since I met my wife, being in front of the media and the public eye, was part and parcel of being married to a highly regarded newsreader.
Fast forward to a little over a year after we met – and in that time, it had been a world-wind relationship. I proposed after 7 weeks of meeting her, we were married in 8 months and she was already 4 months pregnant with our first child. clearly, I don’t have any issues with commitment, but I guess being 36 at the time and she 40 that year, things were always going to get very serious, very quickly.
Back at the barbecue. Like most red blooded blokes, making a beeline to the closest beverage-stacked fridge or coldies buried in an ice-bucket or Esky was my first priority. The second, was making my way to the barbecue and supervising whoever was turning the steaks and snags. I struck up a conversation with the guy with the tongs, who also happened to be the host’s husband. I knew of him… a merchant banker, clearly an alpha male…who, from all accounts was doing exceptionally well, financially. After initial introductions he asked me what I did for a living. It’s been about 6 months, since I took on the role of a stay-at-home-dad and whilst my title was reasonably clear, describing that to someone for the first time, I did feel a little apprehensive and a pioneer at the same time. I said “I’m A Stay At Home Dad”. He sniggered, and said, “Yeah, but what do you do for work… You know, what do you do for a living?” The subtext in my head quietly went something along the lines of “you-gotta-be fuckin-kidding-me, that IS my job, you dip-shit!” My heart started pounding, my smile became forced, I calmly responded with “Mate, it’s the best job in the world!”. Without any eye contact, he continued turning his perfectly OCD-ed steaks, while his slow nod was obviously disapproving and dismissive.
What surprised me at that precise moment, was the instant assumptions and stigmas people have when it comes to gender roles. In our brief conversation he manage to insult fathers and mothers everywhere for what they should and shouldn’t be doing when it came to looking after their children and why. Unfortunately, men are judged by what they do and their value to society is based on hierarchy in their chosen industry or ‘workplace’ environment. For women, it’s a mixed bag of expectations as well, torn between the office, the home and the school runs. The jungle for both men and women has become personally and socially precarious. I know from experience, the decision to be a stay at home dad was a no-brainer for me. While the shock and bewildered response from my wife indicated her preconceived ideas as well. Her high-pitched inflection “You!?!?!?” Didn’t fill me with confidence, but I knew that my intentions were for the greater good of my family, I’m emotional evolved, ego relegated to the back and priorities sorted, I knew I could do this. So, after a few disappointing and unreliable nannies, that came and went, Juanita went back to work after 9 weeks of giving birth. Hand on heart, I honestly did not want to outsource my children. (I do want to make mention that, Im so grateful for my wife to have had the sort of income that afforded me the luxury of being at home) I know a lot of people don’t have that option, so I have her to thank for that possibility. Part of what being a man is for me, is protecting, displaying leadership, being selfless despite the chaos. And there certainly was chaos. Seeing my wife stress and almost buckle under our daily stresses, I needed to step-in, step up, man-up. What began as a 6-7 months off work to be with my son… ended up being 8 years later, I have been their primary carer from the time they were 3 months old. I feel so blessed and privileged to have been there for them during their formative years.
The protecting and displaying leadership and selflessness despite the chaos was certainly a tipping point for me. I feel that men have a huge responsibility to re-examine their priorities, make sure that while things may be sweet for them, perhaps may be a struggle and be different for their partners, and so with this struggle… resentment will no doubt follow.
Guys, we’ve gotta be prepared do some juggling ourselves and our role within a family partnership, whatever that looks like. We have a responsibility not only for ourselves but more importantly, for our loved ones and society in general to raise awareness and teach our children respectful behaviours towards the same and the opposite sex, so that our futures for the work, life, family juggle, isn’t precarious, risky and overwhelming, but more of a comfortable possibility for everyone, rather than the privileged few.